The Zombies…British Invasion Band

Zombies are popular.  There’s “The Walking Dead”, “iZombie”, and any number of B-movies.  My favorite Zombies (sounds like another TV show) are the ones that were part of the “British Invasion”.

“She’s Not There” was a big hit for The Zombies that peaked at #2 in November of ’64.  The recording featured a great bass line by Chris White, an exciting Keyboard solo by Rod Argent, and a cool distinctive vocal from Colin Blunstone.  These guys were gonna be big!

In fact, their second single “Tell Her No” was another top ten hit (#6) just three months later.   And then…they were dead.

They had toured the U.S., and were more popular here than in England, but in 1965 and 1966, there were no more hits.  In a last ditch effort in 1967, they recorded an album for CBS Records in England.  Most of Odessey & Oracle was recorded at Abbey Road studios on the same 4-track recorder as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and with Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick.  They even used the same synthesizer Paul McCartney played for “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  Their recording budget was spent, so Rod Argent and Chris White (who had earned the most money as the songwriters) ended up paying for a stereo mix themselves.  At the end of 1967, and before the album was released, The Zombies broke up.  When the album was finally out in England in April of 1968, it wasn’t a hit.  Rest in Peace Zombies.

But as you know, you can’t keep a good Zombie down.  The Zombies came back to life when Al Kooper, a musician, producer, and songwriter with Columbia Records, discovered the album in a stack of records their English company, CBS, had given him.  Kooper loved the album, and convinced Columbia to release it in the U.S. on their Date label.

Date wisely chose “Time Of The Season” for the single.  Released in late 1968, the song peaked at #3 in early 1969.  Better late than never.

I liked The Zombies, so I picked up Odessey & Oracle in 1969.  It’s basically a pop/rock album with a psychedelic and baroque feel.  It should have been released in 1967 when it was recorded, because it fits that time perfectly.  The songs, the arrangements, and sound are first rate.  It never was a top selling album, but it has obtained cult status, and was ranked by Rolling Stone as the 100th best album in their Top 500.  When you think of how many albums have been released, that ranking is amazing!

Among the highlights are “A Rose For Emily”, “Maybe After He’s Gone”, “Beechwood Park”, “This Will Be Our Year”, and of course “Time Of The Season”.  Trivia #1:  Since “Time Of The Season” was not a hit in England, American Idol Judge Simon Cowell said he had never heard that song when contestant Blake Lewis sang it on the show.  Trivia #2:  The misspelling of odyssey in the title was a mistake by the cover artist, not intentional as the band originally claimed.

Singer Colin Blunstone went on to a low-key solo career.  His smokey singing style is his signature sound, and he put it to good effect on his albums Year OneEnnismore (1972, my favorite), and others.  He also did some lead vocals for the Alan Parsons Project, including “Old And Wise” from the Eye In The Sky album.

Keyboardist and songwriter Rod Argent went on to form the group “Argent” which had the #5 hit “Hold Your Head Up”.  He’s also done solo work, keyboard sessions, composed TV themes, and produced other artists.  He even toured with Ringo Starr’s All Star Band in 1999.

My 4 CD Box Set.  They only released 2 albums!

The Zombies walked the earth again…with an album in 1991, a reunion in 2004, and 3 albums since then.  Also, Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone perform live as The Zombies when it’s the time of the season for touring.

Neil Young

A great songwriter, but not a great voice.  Neil Young?  Bob Dylan? Kris Kristofferson?  It could apply to a lot of singer-songwriters.

Neil Young knows he’s not a great singer.  When he was with Buffalo Springfield he even let Richie Furay take the lead vocals on several of his songs.  People who don’t like Neil Young because of his voice are missing so much great music!   Neil has a way of conveying songs that make them uniquely excellent.

Maybe no one’s keeping track, but Neil Young may be the most prolific songwriter ever.  He’s done over 40 albums of original material, and that doesn’t include live albums or collections.

His 1st solo album is Neil Young (might as well get your name known).  The January 1969 release featured “The Loner” (among other good songs).  Just four months later (prolific!), Young released Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with his band Crazy Horse.  It has the classic rock tracks “Cinnamon Girl”, “Down By The River”, and “Cowgirl In The Sand”.  Then in August (still 1969), he joined the band that became known as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills.  Deja Vu.

Looking back, Neil Young wasn’t really a member of the group, he was much more like a guest star.  Since 1969, Young has only contributed 10 songs to three studio albums that were many years apart.  That’s why they’re called CSN & sometimes Y.  Of course he performed live with CS&N many times, and there is that one truly classic single… “Ohio”…about the killing of 4 Kent State students by National Guardsmen.

Joining CSN made him famous.  He used that notoriety very well with a high-quality solo album in 1970, the same year as Deja Vu.  The title was, appropriately, After The Gold Rush.  It’s filled with good songs, including “Tell Me Why”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “I Believe In You”, “Birds (It’s Over)”, and “Southern Man”.  CS&N probably wondered where those songs were when they put together Deja Vu.

Young then released what is generally considered his best album, 1972’s Harvest.  It has his only big hit, “Heart Of Gold”, which featured Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on vocals, and “Old Man” on which JT played the banjo part.  Other cuts include “A Man Needs A Maid”, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and “Alabama”.  That last song, along with “Southern Man” from his previous album, really ticked off Lynyrd Skynyrd.  “Sweet Home Alabama” became a huge hit for them as they bashed Neil Young in the lyrics.  Afterwards, they became friends.  Fun fact:  “Heart Of Gold” was knocked out of the #1 position by a song that sounded like Neil Young…”A Horse With No Name” by America.

Neil Young turned away from the success of Harvest by releasing some of his least commercial albums…Time Fades Away (a live album of new material, only very recently made available again)…On The Beach …and… Tonight’s The Night (a stark album partially about the drug deaths of friends).  A famous quote from Neil:  ” ‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch.”  Those three albums are known by fans as “The Ditch Trilogy”.

Critics and core fans now look back favorably on these albums.  I bought the albums as they were released, and like some songs from all of them.   My personal favorite cut is “See The Sky About To Rain” from On The Beach.

It would take lots of articles (or books) to cover Neil Young, so here are some selected musical moments.

Besides the singles “Long May You Run” with Stephen Stills, and “Like A Hurricane”, the next commercial popularity for Neil Young was the album Comes A Time in 1978.  It was a return to the country-rock sound, with lots of great songs and vocal help from Nicolette Larson, who had a hit with “Lotta Love”, a song from the album.

Neil Young ended the 1970’s with some of his best work…Rust Never Sleeps.  It includes both his acoustic and electric sides.  Two versions of the same song, with slightly different lyrics, bookend the album.  “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).  The first is acoustic, and the second is an electric all-out Rock song.  A career-spanning live album followed…Live Rust.   Good stuff.

Apparently success makes Neil Young turn the other way. His albums in the ’80’s were so non-commercial that his new label, Geffen, sued him for not recording “typical Neil Young albums”.  There were 9 albums between 1980 and 1989.  They varied a lot in musical styles and quality.  Again, I like some of the songs, even from Trans (1982), which apparently some fans hate.  They just couldn’t handle the Synth Rock sound of Neil’s voice electronically altered through a “Vocoder”.  I like “Transformer Man”, the reworking of “Mr. Soul”, and especially “Sample And Hold”…the original vinyl version is best.  Unfortunately, the CD has a different mix.  1988’s This Note’s For You got noticed for the popular video with Young saying he’s “not singing for Pepsi, not singing for Coke”…instead, “this note’s for you”.  I love the bluesy song “One Thing” from the same album.

Neil returned to Reprise Records in 1989, and what do you know…he made a “typical Neil Young album”…Freedom.  It has acoustic and electric versions of “Rockin’ In The Free World”.  When he did a radio concert for the album, he performed a great version of “Someday” with just piano and voice.  It’s way better than the album version, which is burdened with sound effects and odd background voices.

Another solid Neil Young album followed…Ragged Glory (1990).  Harvest Moon in 1992 pleased even more of his fans.  For some reason, Neil must have wanted back into the middle of the road.  Harvest Moon and Comes A Time are the most Harvest-like of his albums.

And then he recorded another 18 albums!  Can’t get into them all, but here’s my “Neil Young’s Best Vol. 4” playlist (1992-2014).

Neil Young has musically gone wherever his mood and muse have taken him…rock, country, electronic, grunge, folk, jazz/blues, experimental.  No one is going to like everything he’s done.  Music is subjective.  We listen to what we like.  Neil Young has given us a lot to like during his long run.

Crosby, Stills & Nash (The Album)

Their previous groups were so good.  The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies.  By 1968, David Crosby had left The Byrds, and Stephen Stills’ group, Buffalo Springfield, had broken up.  The Hollies played L.A., and Graham Nash (who met Crosby in 1966) was hanging out with friends.  He heard David and Stephen singing a new song, “You Don’t Have To Cry”.  Eventually, Graham added a high harmony to their vocals…and Crosby, Stills & Nash was born.  Of course Nash had to leave the Hollies, and there were legal aspects to clear up, but we know it happened.

Crosby, Stills & Nash featured three guys who could all write songs, sing lead, sing harmony, and play multiple instruments.  The album was presented to the world on May 29th, 1969.

Each songwriter was introduced right away.  It starts with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Stephen Stills, “Marrakesh Express” by Graham Nash, and “Guinevere” by David Crosby.  That’s the “snapshot” of the group.  Stills is a rocker with a folk/country edge, Nash has more of a pop sound, and Crosby the free-spirited hippie.  All three are far more musically complex than that, but these songs do give you a feel for them.

                                                     Stephen Stills & Sweet Judy (Collins) Blue Eyes.

Stills turned his love and breakup with his girlfriend into a classic recording… “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.  The suite of melodies displays all of CSN’s strengths in about seven-and-a-half-minutes.  There was also an edited version (4:36) for AM stations.  It was a time when only FM stations played the “long” album versions.  Stills played all the instruments on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, and handled the majority of the instrumentation for the rest of the album.  By the way, it would seem that Stills’ excellent Buffalo Springfield songs “Bluebird” and “Rock and Roll Woman” were also inspired by Judy Collins.  They’re still friends, and the two have recently done a series of concerts together.

“Marrakesh Express” was the first single.  This was Graham Nash starting a trend of coming up with solid commercial songs for the group.  He says he presented the song to The Hollies, and they recorded it, but never released it.  Nash’s writing kept developing, and he contributed some of the group’s most popular songs.  Another of his songs that stands out on CSN’s first album is the gently beautiful “Lady Of The Island”.

David Crosby was never a “commercial” songwriter, but he gave the trio a distinctive sound with beautifully atmospheric songs like “Guinevere”, and a social conscience with songs like “Long Time Gone”.  Crosby and Nash are both great harmony singers, and “Guinevere” represents the first time we heard the delicate blending of their voices.  Actually, the first time I listened to the album I only had time to hear those first three songs, and “Guinevere” confirmed I’d made a good purchase.

Recent releases of old recordings, like the Just Roll Tape album of Stephen Stills demos from 1968,  and the CS&N Demos  collection from ’68 & ’69 have revealed more about what was musically happening as they put together their first album.

The Stills release is a revelation.  It’s just him and his acoustic guitar running through a bunch of new songs as the tape runs in a studio.  This was in April of 1968 before Crosby, Stills & Nash had formed.  Already, he had “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Helplessly Hoping” and “Wooden Ships”.  It shows that Stills was the primary writer of “Wooden Ships”.  The song had everything except the introduction section with two people on the opposite sides of a war.

The stunning thing is how many more songs he already had that would appear on future albums.  “So Begins he Task”, “Do For The Others”, “Know You Got To Run”, “Change Partners”, “Black Queen” and “Treetop Flyer”.  How in the world could he have waited so long to officially record and release some of these?  A studio version of “Treetop Flyer” didn’t come out until 1991!

Far and away the best cut on CS&N’s Demos is an early version of “Long Time Gone”.  It has standout bass and percussion by Stills and a great vocal by Crosby (no other accompaniment or vocals).  This was in 1968, and it reminds me of a song from 1969… “Come Together” by The Beatles.  That prominent bass part and no guitar would have made “Long Time Gone” so unique if they had released it that way.

Quality songs and perfect harmony are the easy takeaways the first time you listen to Crosby, Stills & Nash.  This album led me into buying nearly everything else these three and Neil Young have recorded.

With one of the best debut albums ever, Crosby, Stills & Nash were ahead of the curve with acoustic-based music.  They helped usher in the 1970’s golden age of singer-songwriters and the west coast sound.  The Grammy Awards didn’t miss this significant release.  CS&N won the “Best New Artist” award.  Good call.

Tape Recording to Digital Recording

You hear it all the time.   People still refer to recording as “taping”.  Did you “tape” that show?  Are there “tapes” of that conversation?  Using tape for audio and video recording has been around for decades, but it’s all digital now.

My dad led me into a lifelong interest in recording.  He always owned tape recorders and microphones.  He was an excellent singer who recorded 40 square dance records (45’s) based on popular songs, such as “Those Were The Days”.   They were recorded in professional studios, but he also had portable recorders to copy live performances.

                     (The cover we used for our family’s CD’s of his recordings.)

Dad let me use the recorders too, and taught me how to edit tape. That meant physically cutting the recording tape at an angle to delete something or splice-in another piece of tape.  The splices were held together by special adhesive tape.  This same basic editing technique was used by professionals.

That amazing edit George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick used to link two different versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (at about one minute into the song) was done the same way.  It’s so important to transfer classic tape recordings to digital, because those splices are eventually going to fail.

My first broadcast journalism class at college required me to record an interview on reel-to-reel tape, and then physically edit the tape into a concise news feature, including adding music or sound effects.   When I got a job in radio news, I still edited tape, but mostly  by dubbing the comments we wanted from a portable cassette recorder onto a broadcast tape cartridge to use during the live news reports.

Today it’s all digital recording.  It looks like most reporters are using phones or other small digital devices.  The quality is better than tape.

For music editing, I use Apple’s GarageBand.  But for what?

Some live recordings posted online have noise or applause at the beginning that needs to be trimmed off.  Or, maybe the applause at the end needs fading.  Even purchased live recordings often need such editing.

        (Neil Young performing “This Old House” at Farm Aid.)

Neil Young is one of my favorite artists.  When he first played “This Old House” at Farm Aid, the TV network started to go to a break during the second chorus, but then decided to stay with the song.  That left a hole and some announcer’s talk in the middle of the song.  I had recorded the performance, and I used GarageBand to place a copy of the first chorus seamlessly into the spot of the second chorus.  The song is complete, and now my favorite version of his song is in one of my Neil Young Live playlists. The multi-channels feature of GarageBand makes such editing possible.

When The Beatles’ Anthology series was released, it contained a take of “Good Morning, Good Morning” without those words in it.  I really liked it.  The  lyrics took on a more serious tone, and Ringo’s drum part was accented.  The problem was it sounded sparse, because the horns and lead guitar weren’t included.  GarageBand let me sync the original version with this take, and put in the missing horns and guitar.  This new version doesn’t take the place of the original, but it sounds great.

Image result for smile album cover

When Brian Wilson shelved the Smile album by The Beach Boys in 1967, the songs and pieces of recordings found their way to bootlegs.  Fans had no idea how to assemble those fragments into an album.  Finally, Brian released a solo version of Smile in 2004.  Then we could assemble The Beach Boys version (which is better) using GarageBand or other editing tools.

One more sample.  On Matchbox Twenty’s Mad Season album there was an unlisted orchestral reprise of the song “You Won’t Be Mine”.  It’s excellent, but it makes an even better introduction to the song.  Editing allowed me to place the dramatic orchestral piece first, and then over the final fading chord, start “You Won’t Be Mine” with that soft piano opening.  It’s magic.

Those are just some of the ways being able to record and edit makes the music even more satisfying.

Of course that just barely scratches the surface of what Garage Band type apps can do.  Musicians are recording entire albums.  Everyone can on a recording studio!

Oh, and a friend recently told me how much she enjoyed the music I had given her by saying “Thank you for the tapes.”  They were CD’s.

Eagles…1972-1980

Somehow, the “West Coast Sound” was led by 3 Midwesterners and a Texan.  Glenn Frey was from Michigan, Randy Meisner from Nebraksa, Bernie Leadon from Minnesota, and Don Henley from Texas.  They were all drawn to Los Angeles, California.  At the Troubadour club they became friends with other artists, including John David Souther, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt.  All four of the future Eagles had experience playing in country rock bands that weren’t very successful.

Eventually, they were brought together when they were hired to back Linda Ronstadt on her 1971 “Silk Purse” tour.  There are a couple excellent live cuts they performed with Linda…”Birds” (by Neil Young) and “I Fall To Pieces” (by Patsy Cline).  Those two cuts were on her 1972 self-titled album, and should be available.  By the way, Ronstadt didn’t really make it big until 1974.  After the tour, the guys formed the band “Eagles”.

           Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey

Their first album, Eagles, was released in June of 1972, and despite the quality of the album, it wasn’t a major hit.  I loved the Eagles instantly, and didn’t realize their album only reached #22 on the Billboard chart, and that their singles were not rated especially high…”Take It Easy” #12, “Witchy Woman #9, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” #22.

Their second album, Desperado, released in 1973, used the concept of musicians as outlaws.   It contained the now classic songs “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado”, but neither of those singles hit the Top 40, and the album only reached #41.  What did the Eagles have to do to really break through?

For their next album On The Border they added a lead guitarist, Don Felder (a Californian), and changed producers, from Glyn Johns to Bill Szymczyk (he couldn’t buy a vowel).  The album had more of the rock feel that Frey & Henley wanted, and they released “Already Gone” as a single.  It charted, but only to #32.  Next they tried “James Dean”.  It only went to #77.  Then in late 1974, they finally released the song that would break things wide open for the Eagles.   “Best Of My Love” hit #1 on both the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts.  Ironically, it was one of two songs Glyn Johns had produced before the change, and it has a country rock sound.  You might remember that the single had a bit of an unusual edit and was shorter than the album version.

The Eagles were finally soaring.  On The Border went double Platinum (2-million albums sold), and eventually Eagles and Desperado went Platinum too.  “Best Of My Love” was the start of five straight top 5 singles, 3 hitting #1.

In 1975, the Eagles released One Of These Nights.  The main hits were the title track (which mixes rock & disco), “Take It To The Limit” (Randy Meisner’s only lead vocal on one of their hits) and Grammy winner “Lyin’ Eyes”, which features one of the Eagles’ best arrangements.  If you’ve never listened really closely to it, give it a try, and notice how the accompaniment varies beautifully with the changing verses.  The album was a huge success, topping the charts and going quadruple Platinum.  The writing team of Frey and Henley was working at a high level, and while they were recording their next and best studio album, their label made a smart move.

The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is one of the best Greatest Hits albums ever assembled, and the biggest seller.  That’s not only because the songs and performances are exceptional, but since the previous studio albums had not sold as well as they should have, “come lately” fans could catch up in one great collection.  It was the best selling American album of the 20th Century…over 29-times Platinum in the U.S., with a worldwide total of 42-million.  Update:  (August of 2018) The album is now certified as the #1 album in history, with sales in the U.S. over 38-million, and the worldwide total well over 50-million.

Bernie Leadon had left the Eagles after the last studio album, mostly because he didn’t like the band moving away from country rock.  His replacement was guitarist and singer-songwriter Joe Walsh.  Walsh had success with The James Gang, and his solo albums.  He also had an off-beat sense of humor and drug problems, so it was a bit of a surprise when he joined the Eagles.  Glenn Frey,  Don Henley, and Randy Meisner had recorded with Walsh for his terrific solo album So What , released at the end of 1974.  Henley and Walsh co-wrote the song “Falling Down”, and it has the line “Burning the candle at both ends, twice the light in half the time.”  Too often that’s the rock star life, and the line would have fit in with the tone of their next album.

One of the most iconic albums ever…Hotel California.

The 1977 album opens with three killer cuts…”Hotel California”, “New Kid In Town”, and “Life In The Fast Lane”.  On the singles chart the three reached #1, #1, and #11 respectively.  Probably the only reason “Life In The Fast Lane” didn’t reach the top is because of the unprecedented use of swearing at one point in the lyrics.  Joe Walsh had played that great guitar lick during an Eagles rehearsal, and Don Henley and Glenn Frey took the songwriting from there.  Henley swears the phrase “life in the fast lane” had never been used before, and now it’s part of our language.  Among the highlights of Hotel California are the rousing duo guitar leads by Felder & Walsh.

Of course Hotel California was a number-one album, and (as of August 2018) has sold 26-million copies in the U.S., with a total of over 40-million worldwide.  It’s the #3 selling album in history.  Don Henley says “Hotel California” is “about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”  The song won the Grammy for Record Of The Year.

Imagine the pressure to follow up that level of quality.  That’s why The Long Run wasn’t released until  two years later.   It’s a highly successful album, 7-times Platinum, with the hits “Heartache Tonight” (another #1 and Grammy winner), “The Long Run” and “I Can’t Tell You Why”.  The latter was sung by bassist Timothy B. Schmidt.  He had replaced Randy Meisner, who said he left because of exhaustion and disagreements with the other band members.

He was not alone.  The Eagles broke up in July of 1980.  Their label, Elektra, released the Eagles Live album, recorded mostly during their last tour.  It included the exquisite vocal performance of “Seven Bridges Road”.  Unfortunately, that was the only harmony the band felt at that time.  They split up saying they’d only get back together when “hell freezes over”…but that’s a story for another article.

(The Eagles…Hell Freezes Over article is posted.)

Who Wrote The Songs? (Lawsuits)[updated]

Lately, there have been lawsuits over…Who wrote the songs?

Did Randy California of the band Spirit write “Stairway To Heaven”?

Did Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams rip off Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” with their song “Blurred Lines”?

Does the organist for Procol Harum deserve credit for writing “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, because he came up with the organ introduction and solo?

All of these would be easily answered if the decision was based solely on the melody and lyrics of the song itself, not on a chord progression or instrumental accompaniment.

For instance, most people know the Temptations’ song “My Girl” (written by Smokey Robinson).  When we hear the record, we recognize what song it is by the opening bass part of just three notes repeating.  The first note is longer and higher than the next two…kind of like:  dumm dum-dum, dumm dum-dum,  dumm dum-dum, dumm dum-dum.  Then the guitar comes in dahh dah dah dah dah dah, dahh dah dah dah dah dah.  Finally the vocalist…”I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.”

The point is this.  Those bass and guitar parts were developed by the amazing session players at Motown.  They were paid to be excellent, and to add to the recordings, and they were great.  But…they are part of the arrangement of the song.  They didn’t write the song.  Sure we know what the song is going to be by hearing those first bass and guitar parts, but we’re recognizing the recording, not the song.

The song could be (and has been) sung  a cappella by the Temptations.  That melody and those words can stand alone, without the bass and guitar, and it’s the same song.  Therefore, no, the session players did not write the song, anymore than the organist wrote “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.  The recordings of “My Girl” and “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” would not have been the same (and probably not as good) without those arrangements, but the songs remain the same.

With “Stairway To Heaven”, the disputed part is the famous long guitar introduction.  Yes, it sounds very similar to the introduction to Spirit’s “Taurus” (the song itself sounds nothing like “Stairway”), but as great as the intro is, that’s all it is.  The song starts with the melody and the words “There’s a lady who’s sure…”, and it was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.  The lawsuit was settled in their favor, but you never know about future appeals.

The “Blurred Lines” case is even scarier, because it seems the jury decided to make the award over “Blurred Lines” having a similar sound and vibe to the Marvin Gaye song.  We could have lawsuits all day long over songs that gave off similar “vibes” to other songs.  Hopefully the judgement in favor of Marvin Gaye’s estate will be overturned.

Update 3/21/18:  A three judge panel upheld the ruling against “Blurred Lines” on a 2 to 1 vote.  The dissenting judge said the two songs aren’t similar in melody, harmony, or rhythm, and that the decision is too broadly allowing the copyright of a style of music.  There will be another appeal.

The organist for “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, Mathew Fisher,  won his suit to be credited as one of the writers.  He’ll receive a portion of future royalties for the 1967 song.  To be fair, his organ part is brilliant and set the mood of the recording.  George Martin’s string arrangement for Eleanor Rigby is also brilliant and set the mood.  George Martin didn’t write Eleanor Rigby either.

Can you imagine how many keyboardists, guitarists, or other instrumentalists could claim their solos or intros mean they deserve a writing credit?  There has not been a rash of other band members suing their songwriters…yet.

If such lawsuits become more common, it might be best if the decisions were made by panels of people with musical backgrounds, or specialized judges, instead of easily swayed juries or judges without expertise in such matters.  Otherwise, decisions could be made on the “vibe” or “Yeah, that sounds similar.”

Update:  Now the owners of Marvin Gaye’s song rights are attempting to get money from Ed Sheeran.  They say his “Thinking Out Loud” infringes on Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.  Sheeran says the songs are not similar, and is hoping to get the case dismissed.  (Aug. 2018)

Update:  Some feedback I received suggested that even though session musicians didn’t actually write the songs, they should be compensated fairly if they played a significant part in creating a recording.  Hopefully, most of the musicians have been appropriately paid, but there is no system set up to guarantee they would be paid more than “scale”.  Non-songwriting members of successful groups should earn very good money through live performances and sales.

Buckingham Nicks

Going through the record store “cut out” bins around 1974, I remember seeing the cover.  You couldn’t miss it.  A nice looking girl and a long haired rocker guy seemingly without clothes.  There was no real nudity, but it was attention getting.  I didn’t buy it, but should have.  It’s the album by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks…Buckingham Nicks.

Lindsey and Stevie found the only major airplay for their 1973 album was in Alabama, because a radio programmer there liked it.  The Buckingham Nicks band flew from Los Angeles to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa a couple of times to play clubs.  The interesting part is that live recordings exist of “Monday Morning” and “Rhiannon” (new songs that were not on the album).  That was before the duo had actually merged with Fleetwood Mac.  The songs are essentially the same as they would appear on the Fleetwood Mac album later that year (1975).  It’s hard to say whether Buckingham Nicks would have survived much longer, but it makes you wonder what would have happened if they had done a second album featuring those two songs.  Plus, Stevie had also written “Landslide” by this time.

Stevie & Lindsey performing as Buckingham Nicks.

The Buckingham Nicks album is important in music history, because if it hadn’t been for this album, there would not have been Fleetwood Mac as we know it.  Most fans are aware that Mick Fleetwood heard a Buckingham Nicks track being used to demonstrate the quality of the Sound City studio in L.A.  Fleetwood Mac needed a guitarist, so they offered the job to Lindsey, who told Mick that he and Stevie were a package deal…the best deal Mick ever made.

Fleetwood Mac had been a successful English blues band in the late 1960’s, and after lots of personnel problems and changes, they had some modest success in Pop/Rock in the early 1970’s.  They were an unstable band, but they still had some clout and a record contract, just what Lindsey and Stevie needed.

                         (Fleetwood Mac…please see the 3 articles on them.)

It was only decades later, after Fleetwood Mac became one of the biggest bands of all time, that I got my hands on the Buckingham Nicks record, and transferred it to CD and into my iTunes.

The album sounds a lot like Fleetwood Mac, and is good.  It helps us understand how much Lindsey and Stevie meant to the sound of the new band.   The 1973 album is still not commercially available, but there are bootlegs.

“Crying In The Night” was the single.  “Stephanie” and “Django” (a salute to guitarist Django Reinhardt) are good guitar instrumentals.  I lean to “Without A Leg To Stand On” and “Races Are Run”. “Crystal” was remade for the Fleetwood Mac album, and “Frozen Love” is the rocker that Mick Fleetwood heard at the Sound City studios.

I did recently find the album online as a free download, along with some never-released demos, and those live recordings of “Monday Morning” and “Rhiannon”.

After hearing the Buckingham Nicks album and the other cuts, it was obvious the new sound of Fleetwood Mac was much closer to the Buckingham Nicks style than the old Fleetwood Mac style.  Lindsey and Stevie are both songwriters, both lead singers, and Lindsey is the producer who shaped the songs, including those of Christine McVie.  It was more like Fleetwood Mac joined Buckingham Nicks than the other way around.

Jackson Browne

The first time I heard about Jackson Browne was from David Crosby.  It was in an interview Crosby did with Rolling Stone magazine.  He talked about this young songwriter he met who was overwhelming other musicians with the quality of his songs.  So, when Jackson Browne’s Saturate Before Using album came out, I bought it right away.  Of course the album was supposed to be simply called Jackson Browne, but the photo of the desert water bag gave it a new title.  Even Jackson Browne refers to it as:

Released in January of 1972, it’s an excellent singer-songwriter album.  The hit was “Doctor My Eyes”, and it included “Rock Me On The Water” and  “Something Fine”, with sublime harmonies by David Crosby.

The song that is probably his best know composition wasn’t included.  Instead, Browne gave it to the songwriter who helped him finish it…Glenn Frey.  The Eagles album premiered a little later that same year with “Take It Easy”.  The ever humble Browne says it was the extended “Eeeeeasy” and other aspects of the Eagles’ arrangement that turned his song into a hit.

Jackson Browne was never a “singles artist”.  It’s always been about his Albums.  For Everyman was next in 1973.  The album included “These Days” (Gregg Allman made a classic version it), and “Take It Easy” also made an appearance.

In 1974 Jackson Browne released Late For The Sky.  It’s probably his best studio album.  There are only eight songs, because they’re fairly long.  Browne says he sometimes has trouble letting go of the writing process.  I remember the review in Rolling Stone called three of the songs “masterpieces”.  “Fountain Of Sorrow”, “For A Dancer”, and “Before The Deluge”.

1977 was the year of The Pretender.  It included the hit “Here Come Those Tears Again”, and standout album cut “Sleep’s Dark And Silent Gate”.

All of Jackson Browne’s first four albums are Platinum or multi-Platinum sellers, but his breakthrough to an even larger audience was Running On Empty.  It was an unusual concept.   The songs were new, but instead of using studio versions, they were all recorded live.  (Only Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away” had used that concept.).  Besides the songs being performed to audiences, a couple were even recorded in a hotel room and on a bus!   There’s a real freshness to the album.  It went 7-times Platinum.

Running On Empty was released in December of 1977, and Jackson Browne started the album tour in Omaha in January, 1978.  We were there…my all-time favorite concert.  (Paul McCartney’s 1993 concert in Kansas City is a very close second.)

This was the peak for Jackson Browne.  He had many of LA’s best studio musicians…Lee Sklar on bass, Craig Doerge on piano, Russ Kunkel on Drums, Doug Haywood on guitar, Danny Kortchmar on lead guitar, and David Lindley on lap steel guitar.  The sound at the concert was top notch.  We could hear each player so clearly that we could pick out the individual performances on the various instruments.  Jackson Browne was perfect!  Three encores.

The next album Hold Out was #1 and double-Platinum.  Lawyers In Love also went Platinum.  We saw Jackson Browne for the second time, during his Lives In The Balance tour, when we took our son Paul to his first concert.

World In Motion was not as popular as his previous albums, but he bounced back nicely with I’m Alive, and we saw him again in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Other albums followed…Looking East, The Naked Ride Home, Time The Conqueror, and Standing In The Breach (2014).  He also did a couple of live solo albums that are quite good, with some impressive acoustic guitar work.

In 2015 Jackson Browne came to us…Eugene, OR…for an outdoor concert.  Above is a zoom lens shot.  Click to enlarge and make clearer.

The time has passed when singer-songwriters ruled the music world and toured with the best musicians.  But, it was a packed show, and Jackson Browne still sounded great!

From Records to Playlists…Audio Tech

What a long strange trip it’s been through all the ways to buy and play music.

(A 1947 Remler radio/phonograph with 78 RPM record)

For my dad, it started with 78 RPM (revolutions per minute) records. The reason we call a collection of songs an “album” is because the first collections were like large photo albums that contained multiple 78 records in the sleeves (pages) of the album.

I became familiar with 45 RPM records through my two older sisters, Veronica and Janice, who bought records by artists like Ricky Nelson and The Everly Brothers.  My sisters could harmonize like the Everly Brothers too!

It was about the time of the British Invasion (1964) when I started to buy records of my own.  We lived in Leigh, Nebraska, a small town with no record store, but I was able to buy old jukebox 45’s at “Flossie’s Café”.  The guy who stocked the jukebox would leave a box of singles that were either used, or new overstocked records. They were 25-cents each.  I remember getting “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.  Every once in awhile, my family would make a trip to one of the nearby towns that had record stores. The first new album (33 1/3 RPM) I ever bought was Little Deuce Coupe by The Beach Boys, and the first new single was “Because” by The Dave Clark Five.  I still have the record sleeve:

Thus began decades of buying records…thousands of them.  During high school, it was mostly 45’s, and of course The Beatles’ albums.  Dad provided an old record player for my room, and once in awhile I’d even play records on the console stereo in the living room.  Life was pretty good for a music-loving teenager.  My collection progressed so well that I was the designated player of records at our school dances.  It wasn’t really being a DJ, although there was a microphone for announcements, such as introducing the King & Queen at the Homecoming Dance.

Buying lots of records wasn’t always a given.  When my wife, Jeannette, and I were first married (so young!), spending a few dollars on an album was more of a big deal.  During a time in Memphis, we’d go to a record store that had open copies of popular albums and listening stations.  We’d listen to albums, and then eventually buy the one album we thought was best.

 (Newlyweds near Memphis in 1970 with our cool ‘63 Dodge Polaris coupe.)

The other thing that became part of our listening experience was a Sony stereo reel-to-reel recorder.  I was making tapes and saving the records from the repeated ravages of a diamond-tipped needle.  I could make my own “Greatest Hits” albums too!

 (A recording console my friend Danny helped me build in 1973 [photo 1975].   Included are…a Sony 4-channel reel-to-reel on top, regular Sony reel recorder, Kenwood receiver/amp, AR turntable, and four Pioneer speakers.  [Click photo to enlarge.]  My wife’s contribution was the fern.)

For a time in the 70’s, there were 8-track tapes.  Never owned one.  They did make music portable.  Good idea.  If you’ve ever heard 8-tracks, you know some changed tracks in the middle of songs.  Bad idea.

At some point in the 70’s, Cassette tapes took the place of 8-tracks.  Cassettes were good, but not the lo-fi pre-recorded ones.  Instead I still bought records and transferred them to cassettes that had high-quality tape.  So at this point, we had shelves and boxes filled with records, and self-recorded cassettes (that had replaced all those reel-to-reel boxes).

A miracle was about to happen…CD’s!  Sure there were some early CD’s that had less than fantastic equalization, but damn they were so cool!  I used to call myself a “record collector”, but the CD format made me realize the term should really have been “music collector”.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the experience of getting record albums, reading all the information on the covers, etc.   I know there are die-hard “vinyl” fans who love the analog warmth of record albums…but there were problems.  It’s not that the format is inherently bad; it was mostly the manufacturing problems of the records themselves.  You would take off the plastic and remove the record, being careful to handle it by the edges, and gently place the needle at the beginning.  Too often, the record would be printed off center (like Jackson Browne’s Pretender album), or be filled with “clicks & pops” (like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 4-Way Street).  Today’s vinyl is a lot better, but also costs about $25+ per album.

CD’s have no wow-and-flutter, no surface noise, no wear, and never a click or pop as the final chord of a song fades.  An average album might have four really good cuts, and even the best albums could have songs you wanted to skip.  That was not a problem with programmable CD players.  CD’s were first introduced to mainstream America in 1983.  I always needed a way to record, so in 1986 I bought one of the first CD recorders.  Blank CD’s were $6 each back then, and had to be special ordered.  When my first CD recorder developed problems, The Phillips Company replaced it with a new model.  Even today, I can plug an audio source into it in a way I can’t do with my computer.

(Shown with my 1980’s CD recorder is a Bakelite radio from the 1940’s, and a wooden radio from the 1930’s.)

If you’re like me, you never imagined the next step.  Our son, Paul, showed us something new.  He said it was an iPod.  OMG!

 (Above is the first iPod model, like our son showed us.)

Record albums could hold about 45-minutes of music.  Tapes normally held an hour or so.  CD’s hold an hour and 20-minutes.  My 160-Gigabyte Classic iPod is the size of a cassette, has about 18-thousand songs on it, and it’s not full.   A giant leap for mankind!

That brings us to today.  CD sales have dropped dramatically as digital downloads and streaming services have taken over.  Apple Music, Spotify and other services are the norm, especially for younger generations.

So where does that leave an old guy like me?  I love the Playlist format. Using iTunes, I’ve loaded-in all my music, and purchased quite a bit more from Apple through the years.  Everything is at the highest-quality audio available, which is very similar to today’s CD’s.

I made a choice at the beginning to make almost all of my playlists CD-length (80-minutes max).  Not only is that long enough to listen to an artist, but if a friend or family member likes the playlist, I can simply burn it to a CD (which costs about a quarter now).  They can then load it into their own computers if they wish.  Even though the CD format is fading, this still works for most people.

I absolutely love being able to organize my music collection with playlists. Too often we would lose track of music we liked, because the album or CD was stuck on a low shelf, or we just forgot about it.  Now, we can simply scan the playlists to see our whole collection.  Artists who’ve only had one or two hits can be included in multiple-artist playlists.

With technology, the musical road goes on forever, but it’s not bad at this roadside stop.

Note:  For a further technology update, please see the article on the Apple HomePod.

Melody/Paul McCartney

You can have a song…only if there is a melody.

You can have lyrics…but without a melody…it’s poetry.

You can have rhythm…but without a melody…it’s just a beat.

Of course lyrics and rhythm are important aspects in music, but the only essential ingredient is melody.  A song without lyrics is still a song…an instrumental…and you can vary the rhythm.

There’s an excellent book Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo.

He interviews over 60 songwriters.  One of the more fascinating revelations is that songwriters tell him some of their best songs come to them almost like the universe is presenting them with a gift.  Three famous examples of this are the songs “Yesterday”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “You’ve Got A Friend”.  Paul McCartney, Paul Simon,  and Carole King say the songs came to them in dreams.  Plus, so many times songwriters have said…”It practically wrote itself”.

So who is the best melody writer?  Paul Simon says it’s Paul McCartney.  Let’s check the evidence.  The most recorded song of all time is “Yesterday”.  For years, the second most recorded song was “Michelle”.  A recent search of the top ten most recorded songs found “Yesterday” still at #1 with “Eleanor Rigby” now at #2.  Also in the top ten are “And I Love Her” and “Blackbird”.  No other songwriter has more than one song in the top ten.  John Lennon has “Imagine”, and then there are older classics like “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Summertime”.

Here’s a playlist of some of McCartney’s Beatle songs.  (You can tap or click it to make it larger.)

By the way, my playlists include “Beatle Songs by John”, “Beatle Songs by Ringo”, and my favorite title: “Beatle Songs By George”.

While nearly everyone knows The Beatles were the top Billboard singles artists of the 1960’s, it might come as a surprise that Paul McCartney was the top singles artist of the 1970’s (he was mistakenly listed as #2 earlier).  Sir Paul has had 37 top 40 hits, 9 number one singles and 8 number one albums.  McCartney opens himself to criticism at times for less than poignant lyrics, but no one questions his melody writing.  “Silly Love Songs” spent five weeks at the top of the charts.  At one point in the song there are three melodies beautifully intertwined.

A playlist of some of McCartney’s best solo songs:

Today, there’s a lot of criticism about the lack of great melodies, and of course Rap is often devoid of melody altogether.  The trend in Pop music is to have teams of writers manufacture the hits.  This results in some interesting arrangements that can have “hooks”, but most do not have the classic flow of great melodies.  Maybe there needs to be a little less teamwork and commercial intent, and a little more soul and inspiration.